"American Idol" 2013: Sudden Death, Round 2 (Top 5 guys revealed)


On Wednesday we had 10 women competing for five spots, and in the end at least one really talented young lady went home because there wasn’t enough Top 10 berths to go around. On Thursday we had 10 guys perform and had five advance to the Top 10 when only probably three of them deserved to. I guess the show really does want a woman to win this year, because the pool of guys they offered up tonight was one of the worst groups of semi-finalists I can remember seeing since maybe Season 3.

Paul Jolley from Palmersville, Tennessee kicked things off. Paul is extremely handsome, so he’s got that going for him. He picked a song I’ve never heard -- this is becoming a trend this season -- and made the questionable decision to perform it sitting on a stool. It was a slow, sad song that wasn’t doing much for me. He sounded fine in the first half of it, but he strained for the high notes toward the end -- it all got a little shouty for me. Apparently it was a Keith Urban song, because Keith was honored by Paul selecting it. Keith said that Paul’s got a great voice, and suggested that he not overcompensate for anything with his performance. That’s a nice way of saying that Paul was trying too hard. Nikki Minaj said that this performance didn’t wow her, and that his voice sounded strained. She felt that he was in his head too much, and not being authentic to the song. Randy Jackson made some really weird generalizations about range and power in country vocals and then mentioned some of the pitch issues in Paul’s performance. Mariah Carey felt that the front half of the performance was intimate, and then I totally lost what she was trying to say. Seriously, no idea.

Johnny Keyser, 23, from Ft. Lauderdale will end up in entertainment one way or another, no matter what happens with this show. He’s like genetically bred for fame. He looks like a cast member from the current “90210.” He went with “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz, and, oh, this was bad. The song started out too low for him and the vocal was just crazy weak for the first verse. He gave it some gas on the chorus, but he still struggled with pitch and support. It got better as it went on, but that beginning was really dreadful. Keith lied, lied, lied when he called it “good” and the best he’d ever heard Johnny sing. He said that Johnny’s nerves were apparent -- I didn’t see any of that. Nikki said that Johnny looked very sexy and then asked if he had a girlfriend. Basically she just hit on him until she told him that he doesn’t have a great voice, but he’s sexy and masculine and girls will like him. That’s probably accurate. Randy said that his performance was just OK, and lacking in moments that would push him through to the Top 10. Mariah spoke to Johnny’s commitment in music, but again basically just ended up saying that he’s hot and they want to keep looking at him. I cannot disagree with that assessment, but they were WAY too nice to him based on that performance. And then Ryan made an awkward, passive-aggressive pass at Johnny.

Trans flower JDA was up next with “Rumor Has It” by Adele. Oh, JDA. You had to pick Adele, didn’t you? Nobody’s voice compares favorably to Adele’s. The vocal wasn’t terrible, but it was straight-up karaoke, and very nasal karaoke at that. JDA’s performance, however, was amazing. Disco stances! Lying on the floor and moaning plaintively! Ripping off the crop jacket to reveal a strappy top underneath! Eat your heart out, Sanjaya. The judges were literally cackling on the podium. Keith commended JDA for putting on a show. Yes! But Keith felt like JDA was “counting steps,” in that the performance seemed overly choreographed. Nikki told JDA to “work it, girl,” and that no matter what happens, JDA is a superstar performer. But she also said that the vocal was phone voicey and whiny. That is very true. Randy said that the vocal wasn’t stellar because JDA was too preoccupied with the performance aspect, and the whole thing felt predictable. Mariah appreciated JDA’s confidence level, and liked the vocal. Mariah -- come on. Ryan couldn’t resist comparing openly out JDA to Adam Lambert. Like they’re the only two homosexuals on this show, RYAN.

Kevin Harris went with Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do It For You).” Of all the songs in the world, that’s the one you pick? Hopeless. Kevin has a surprisingly high-pitched singing voice. The vocal was mostly fine, but unspectacular, and he struggled with the high notes and was just on the cusp of flat for a good chunk of the song. He tried to fancy up the end of the song, but there’s no way to not make that song boring. Keith, however, loved the song choice for Kevin and the effortlessness of Kevin’s upper range in it. Nikki thought that every musical choice Kevin made was “perfection,” and that he didn’t seem like he was in a competition because he was so relaxed. But she also worried that his personality wouldn’t jump through. What personality? Randy totally disagreed, calling it boring, karaoke, and predictable. Mariah called Kevin a professional, but felt that the song didn’t allow Kevin to do what he knows he can do. Kevin seems like total filler to me.

Chris Watson, 25, from Dover, Delaware, and his head scarf went with “Dock of the Bay,” but he did a jammy rock take on it. I actually appreciated the different approach to a standard “Idol” song. I thought the vocal started out good but he got a little mush-mouthed about halfway through. Still, Chris can sing OK, he actually had a pulse, and he can work a stage. A pleasant surprise, considering I thought he was terrible in the clips from Hollywood Week. Keith argued that this isn’t a singing competition, it’s a connection competition. He didn’t think Chris’s vocal was great but that the connection and style were totally there. Nikki called Chris the prettiest man she’s ever seen, and praised his soulful, raspy vibrato -- she said she’s obsessed with him. Randy loves Chris, the look, the vibe, but he was waiting for the vocals, because Chris didn’t go anywhere with the song in terms of range or excitement. Mariah was surprised by the song choice, but finds Chris a survivor, and she also hit on Chris. Could the male panelists ever get away with hitting on the female contestants so blatantly?

Devin Velez, 18, did “Listen” from “Dreamgirls.” I feel like Devin is a very dramatic person. That said, Devin was clearly the best male singer to perform at that point. He’s got a really interesting voice with a great tone -- for the first third of the song, at least. Then he shifted into Spanish language, which is fine and frankly pretty smart. And then after he came out of that he was off in both pitch and rhythm, and the last third of that song felt like someone desperately trying to finish a marathon. He’s got to work on his consistency, because he has fantastic potential. Nikki mentioned how the Spanish language was very smart and very marketable, and commented on Devin’s warmth -- I don’t get personal warmth from him at all. I actually find something off about him. Randy called it “amazing” and acted like he’d never heard a singer on this show tried the Spanish-language thing (they have). Mariah blessedly pointed out that there were pitch issues toward the end, and Devin admitted that he knew it, too.

Elijah Liu, 18, is a college student and apparently a player. Eyeroll. I have no idea what he song he was singing. Elijah also has a surprisingly high singing voice but I guess that’s current male pop star for you. The look was very “Thriller”-era Michael Jackson, the vocal was very Bieber, the performance was listless and awkward, the falsetto was really off. Mixed bag for me. Keith loved the song choice, but called it a shaky performance. Still, he thinks Elijah is “relevant and now.” Nikki said she didn’t care about the song, but she thinks he’s a superstar and wants to have his babies. She thinks he’s crazy marketable and would sign him today, saying that he’s ready right now. We have found Nikki’s weakness: penis. She cannot think clearly when confronted with a Y chromosome. Randy agreed that the vocal was not strong, but Mariah liked the New Edition-style voice.

Charlie Askew, a.k.a. Weird Ginger, did “Rocket Man” by Elton John. He started out with his eyes closed tight and seemed deeply, deeply uncomfortable. He was kneeling on the stage? I don’t know. The whole thing was high-school talent show sponsored by the AV Club and the area LARPer group. I thought the vocal was shit. Quavery, weak -- the whole thing was ridiculous to me. Cheap theatrics. The crowd went nuts after he finished. Somewhere SanjayaMalakar felt a cold shiver run down his spine, because Charlie just walked over his career grave. Keith said that no matter what people are saying at home, nobody left their TVs. True. He likes Charlie’s originality and fearlessness, and his WTF-ness. Nikki called it the most interesting song choice of the night, and said that his weirdness excites her. She too compared him to Freddie Mercury, and ladies and gentlemen, Freddie Mercury is in heaven right now, playing canasta with Bea Arthur, and he is throwing the sharpest side-eye at this display. Thank god Randy called out the drama-club theatrics, and basically made a plea for sanity, because all of these kids were coming out with shitty vocals and acting like it’s OK because they’re overacting on the stage like a bunch of desperate fame whores. The entire time the critique was going on Charlie kept commenting back to the judges, and I find him SO tiresome.

Jimmy Smith is from Tennessee and is in desperate need of a makeover. Jimmy went with another country song I don’t know -- how many country singers have we had this year? Clearly I need to listen to more non-girl country music. Jimmy’s voice was disappointingly weak and he had serious pitch issues on the chorus. The performance was also super cheesy. I actually think it may have been the worst of the night up until that point, and that’s really saying something. Apparently it was another Keith Urban song? Keith loved it, and with that snatched away Randy’s tiara as Most Useless Judge. Nikki thought the vocal was OK, but admitted that she was bored. Randy also said it was boring, and that the vocal wasn’t great. Mariah wondered if perhaps the pressure of the venue got to Jimmy, but she thinks America should still be able to see him. We saw him. We don’t want him.

Curtis Finch Jr. came to our attention in Hollywood Week, when he was a horrible bitch during group round. But he can also really sing. He did a totally re-envisioned r’n’b version of The Carpenters’ “Superstar,” and it was a spectacular vocal. Not a single bad note, and a great delivery. He also reminds me of an r’n’b version of the Cowardly Lion, and I LOVE it. Nikki says that Curtis takes the competition to a completely different level. Yeah, no question there.One of two decent vocals of the entire night. Randy commented on Curtis’s massive range, but also wants Curtis to act his age -- 25 -- and not to go too old fashioned. Agreed.

After commercials, the judges popped out of the floor and said that their decisions were not unanimous, which meant Jimmy Iovine would be called in to make the decision. Curtis was up first and Nikki told him to drop the act, he knew he was going through. And of course, he was. Good. Best vocal of the night. Poor doomed Jimmy was up next, and he got cut -- deservedly, after that vocal. They called Kevin next, and I honestly couldn’t remember who he was. They tellingly picked his worst moments in the replay, and then he got cut.

Elijah Liu was next, and he got a spot in the Top 10. I think that’s a testament to the shit bunch of contestants tonight and not a validation of his talent. Vocally it was not there. Sparkly unicorn JDA was next, and Nikki Minaj had to crush his delicate butterfly wings before sending him home. A tremendous loss to the competition! Pretty, pretty Paul was next, and Randy announced that Paul was the tied vote. Jimmy said that Paul is a good singer with the wrong song, and he was singing a Keith Urban song while auditioning for “Phantom of the Opera.” I guess? Anyway, Jimmy gave Paul the thumbs up, so at least we have some man candy this season.

Chris was next, and he got cut. It’s weird; I didn’t like him until tonight, but I thought he was one of the better performances of the night. Meanwhile, Charlie came up and was given one of the spots in the Top 10 for that ridiculous performance. I guess this is good news in the long run, because Charlie is going to at least make for interesting television and some really enjoyable hate blogging. I’m sorry, folks. He just sets my teeth right on edge.

That left one spot between Devin and Johnny. There’s no question that Devin should have gotten the easy win here based solely on the vocal. Johnny has hotness in his corner but he biffed this audition. Nikki Minaj said that this wasn’t unanimous, and then gave Johnny the cut while Devin went through. I am somewhat surprised, because I feel like Johnny has been heavily promoted on this show over the past two seasons, and I fully expected him to make the cut this year.

Next Wednesday: more girls. Let’s hope they’re as good as this week’s crop, because if tonight was any indication, the guys are terrible this year.